From sushi to spicy, House of Kobe does Japanese fare right

This review of House of Kobe was originally published Tuesday, Oct. 25th, 2011.

House of Kobe has been in business in Hagerstown for 30 years. It had been awhile since I had visited, so my friend Pap Ricka and I made a date.

The restaurant is on Dual Highway and has a distinctive Japanese look on the outside. Inside, the Japanese theme continues.

Booths and tables with chairs line the main dining room. The tables are covered in white cloths with cloth napkins tucked into stemmed glasses. Japanese art hangs on the walls.

Off to one side is the sushi bar, where you can sit and order sushi a piece or two at a time. Above the counter, the canopy is lined with boards painted with Japanese characters identifying different fish.

Beyond the main dining room is the hibachi. If you have never been to a Japanese restaurant for the hibachi experience, you should go. Guests are seated around a giant grill, and the chef prepares the meal right in front of you. The chef takes pride in entertaining guests as the meal is cooked — producing bursts of flames, twirling his knives and tossing bits of food to diners. It is quite fun.

But Pap and I decided we would like a quieter dining experience, so we settled in the main dining room. We were shown to our table, and our waitress immediately came over and offered us a sushi menu. For about $4 or $5, sushi is offered in every imaginable form, either in pieces or in a roll.

While I love sushi, I thought that I would like to order something from the regular menu. The nice thing about the menu is that you can order a complete dinner with appetizer, soup, salad, and entrée with rice, or you can order each of those things a la carte.

The dinner choices start out with House of Kobe Imperial Dinners ($26.50 to $27.50). These dinners of beef shabu-shabu or seafood Yosenabe serve two people and are prepared at the table in a pot. There are also House of Kobe specials, which include a Japanese seafood combo platter ($21.95) and a teriyaki combo platter of chicken, beef and negimaki (marinated beef rolls stuffed with scallions) for $20.95.

There also are dinner boxes of teriyaki, tempura or sushi ($14.95). Also available are yakisoba and udon, which are noodles, and fried rice and domburi, which are rice dishes.

Other dinner dishes cost $20.09 to $26.95 for the complete dinner. Everything sounds exotic and intriguing.

After some deliberation and consultation with our waitress, I ordered Carashi Buta, a spicy pork dinner with all the trimmings. I could choose between appetizers of Yakitori chicken on a skewer and Hitokuchikatsu, a pork dish. Since my main dish was pork, I selected the chicken appetizer. Pap got the salmon teriyaki dinner box.

The feast began. We were brought clear soup, a light broth with scallions and thinly sliced mushrooms. Its flavor was delicate. Next came our salad: a plate of finely shredded cabbage with shredded carrot and sesame dressing. I love the taste of that dressing. I enjoyed watching Pap navigate the salad with his chopsticks. He did very well. For the less adventurous, a fork was also provided.

The Yakitori chicken was next to arrive — six rather large chunks of grilled chicken on wooden skewers. It was covered with a tasty reddish-brown sauce. The chicken was moist and tender, and there was plenty to share with Pap.

By now, I was almost full, but looking forward to the main event. My dinner came heaped up on a large plate, along with a bowl of white rice. The pork was thinly sliced and came with mushrooms, onions and thinly sliced crinkle-cut carrots. Sesame seeds were sprinkled over the top. It was fire-engine hot! I enjoy hot and spicy food, but, even so, this was at the top of my chart.

Our waitress hurried over to make sure it was not too hot. “I should have told you that you can order it mild,” she said.

I reassured her that the spice level was fine. I had some help from Pap, who likes things really hot. Our waitress kept my water glass filled, so all was well.

Pap’s dinner box was beautiful. One section had teriyaki salmon. The salmon might have been a tad overdone, but the flavor was good. In another section was gyoza, Japanese pot stickers filled with meat and vegetables. White rice filled one corner, while fruit slices were in another. The pineapple was perfectly ripe, and sweet as candy. Pap’s sushi was piled in another compartment: tuna, salmon and shrimp were nestled beside a cucumber roll, along with a fragrant pile of pickled ginger. Pap refused to share the sushi but reported that it was very good.

When we had eaten all we could, our waitress brought over a small dish of ginger ice cream “to cool off your mouth,” she said. It was sweet, but with the sharp, savory taste of ginger. A delightful ending to the meal.

It is easy to see why House of Kobe has been in business for 30 years. The attentive staff offers good food beautifully presented. Next time I will get my own sushi!

We waited a little while to get our food, and I wished they had served some type of bread to keep us from getting too hungry, but we didn’t mind as our waitress was super attentive and kept us updated.

Friday night at Fat Tuesdays means music so a local band was set up in the corner to serenade the diners. And when they played, it didn’t overpower the small bar. I hate when you have to scream at your guest over a meal.

At last the meals had arrived — and tres magnifique. My friend’s burger was prepared to her specifications with no bun. She said it was tasty, but felt like she needed more barbecue sauce or have the sauce on top of the cheese not underneath. The sauce was sweet and tangy — and delicious.

My Shrimp Creole was what I expected and more. Perfectly cooked rice was soaked in chunks of spicy tomatoes layered with plenty of Gulf shrimp. The shrimp were tasty and cooked to perfection. It was the right combination of heat and spice I was looking for. It was served with some grilled bread to dip into the rest of the tomato-peppery sauce. Yum.

I didn’t notice a dessert menu. Too bad, I was hoping for a beinet to top off my culinary cruise to New Orleans. As the evening wound down, we chatted for awhile, sipped our drinks and listened to the music.

A trip to Fat Tuesdays made me long for a trip to New Orleans, but it’s sure a great place to let the good times roll closer to home.

Anne Chovey is a pseudonym for a Herald-Mail writer who reviews restaurants anonymously to avoid special treatment.

Rating

Restaurants are rated on a scale from 1 to 5.

  • Food 3.5
  • Value 3.5
  • Service 4.0
  • Ambiance 4.0

Overall Rating

4.0